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    Squidget's Donkey Kong Country 2 (SNES)

    [January 21, 2007 09:54:58 PM]
    Having played through this game (completely) over the last few days, I felt it deserved some discussion. I've played a very large number of old school platformers and the Donkey Kong Country series stands out as the best of them. I can continue to replay these games long after I've grown bored with Mario, and in my mind they stand out as some of the best platformer design I've ever come across.

    Most more recent platformers (post-NES) aren't just about passing the levels or getting through the storyline - those are an important and integral part of the gameplay, but to truly complete a platformer you always have to find a multitude of secrets. These secrets are usually hidden off the beaten path and require a fair amount of exploration and puzzle-solving. While a weaker or more casual player might find the levels a challenge enough, a hardcore gamer can comb every level for hours trying to find that last item and get 100% completion. Donkey Kong Country 2 handles this duality perfectly, with levels that are challenging in their own right and secrets that are hidden just well enough to keep the gamer interested.

    First, the levels. Each level in DKC2 has its own 'gimmick' that subtly changes the way the game is played. On one level you might find the gravity has been lowered and your jumps will take you twice their usual distance. On another level you're stuck on a twisted roller coaster, jumping your car to grab bananas or dodge other cars while you move quickly up and down the various tracks. On yet another level, acid is constantly rising below you and you have to climb up instead of moving left to right. Creating so many gimmicks (DKC2 has dozens of levels) is a feat in its own right, and it makes each stage feel new enough that the player never gets bored.

    On to the secrets - secrets in DKC2 are structured such that each level has one 'big' secret (a large golden DK coin), two or three bonus rooms, and a multitude of small bananas and extra lives. Before you enter a level you are able to look at which secrets you found - since the levels themselves are fairly short, this makes each secret feel very achievable. You know that that taunting DK Coin is in somewhere in this relatively small area, but you don't know where.

    None of DKC2's secrets are without some clue as to where they might be hiding. Alarm bells start to go off when a player sees a certain feature. For example, the small bananas (identical in function to Mario's coins) are always indicating something about the secret. If a single small banana is placed against a wall, you know it's there for a reason and that you should check that wall. If the banana is over a deadly pit, you know that you can jump into the pit without fear - something will always be there to save you.

    At the same time, the rest of the level actively pushes you away from the secrets. Jumping from one vine to the next feels right and makes sense, while jumping to get a single banana in a pit feels like a stupid move. The player starts to question every action and every assumption, and a segment of gameplay that's really only a few minutes can be massively extended as they search every nook and cranny for the elusive secret.

    In this way, the player quickly learns that the path the gameplay provides isn't always the correct one. The first few levels of DKC2 have you moving left to right in the usual platform style - then suddenly, you come upon a DK coin hidden just to the left or just above the starting point. If the player finds this coin, they'll forever be questioning their left to right assumption. They'll try to move left or up at the start of every level, looking for another secret. They'll always be wondering if there isn't another way to go.

    The really amazing thing is how little effort it must have taken to create these secrets. The graphics and gameplay around them is really miniscule from a design standpoint. However, they add massively to the game's lifespan and replayability, since you can always find something new and you'll always be looking for some special item off the beaten path. A 2-minute level might take 10 minutes, all because of one or two well-placed secrets.

    I'd recommend this game to anyone designing a platformer. It really is one of the best.

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    Squidget's Donkey Kong Country 2 (SNES)

    Current Status: Finished playing

    GameLog started on: Sunday 21 January, 2007

    GameLog closed on: Sunday 21 January, 2007

    Squidget's opinion and rating for this game

    No comment, yet.

    Rating (out of 5):starstarstarstarstar

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